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Teachers’ Turn To Learn

One hundred of Molokai’s 120 Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers congregated at Molokai High School last Wednesday for a day of personal and professional development. While students around the island had the day off, teachers were busy learning in the classroom.

Called Teacher’s Institute Day 2013, the event allowed Molokai teachers a day to sit down with each other as well as representatives from the Hawaiian State Teacher’s Association (HSTA) teachers union and the National Education Association (NEA). Together they discussed teaching rights in Hawaii and how the state education system can progress looking ahead.

“Teachers don’t have enough time to talk to each other because they are so busy during the school day,” said Princess Moss, NEA executive board member.  “A day like today provides some opportunity to come together, to share ideas, to collaborate, and that’s really powerful.”

The NEA is an organization that advocates for public education and rights of educators and children. With three million members and affiliates and serving 14,000 communities, the NEA is the largest professional employee organization in the nation, according to the NEA webpage.

Because of a new teacher’s contract agreed on and initiated this school year by the HSTA and the state Department of Education (DOE), the event was the first in four years held on Molokai.

“Teachers Institute Day is a negotiated day by our contract,” said HSTA President Wil Okabe. “Four thousand teachers in our unit out of 14,500 have never experienced this day.”

The HSTA is an organization helping teachers receive fair benefits, salaries and working conditions. In 1970, a group of motivated teachers from around the state found a need for a support group to ensure they had equal rights aligned with other public service agencies. One year later, HSTA was born. According to Peterson, Molokai is the only island in the state with a 100 percent HSTA signed membership.

“Things are changing in the organization and in the community,” Okabe said. “We aren’t in the same place we were 43 years ago.”

Today’s teachers enjoy basic rights and freedoms such as the right to take a personal leave day without being questioned by an administrator, a guaranteed preparation period each day, the right to transfer from school to school without fear of losing tenure or seniority, and the right to work in a hazard-free environment.

Teacher’s Institute Day included several informational booths, discussions and workshops such as handling personal finances, retirement planning, creative teaching methods and understanding the new contract.

“I’m going to the session to learn more about the new contract now that it has passed,” said second grade Maunaloa School teacher, Teddy Sotelo. “It’s written in a language that some of us don’t understand so I want to go…to see how this new contract is going to benefit my fellow peers and me.”

Several changes in the contract include a starting pay of $41,000, which will increase by 3.2 percent each following year, salary bonuses, and pay increases based on teacher evaluations. The contract also restores medical coverage premium percentages. Instead of paying half of their health insurance premiums, teachers now pay 40 percent.

One of the most popular sessions of the day, according to HSTA Molokai Chapter Vice President Laura Peterson, was the grant-writing workshop.

“It’s all about funding,” said Peterson. “That just shows how tight the money is because teachers are desperate for classroom resources.”

Of all schools represented, Maunaloa School was the only school with a 100 percent teacher attendance rate at the event.

“We are all very excited [about Teach Institution Day] because now that we have a contract, we can negotiate and we can move forward,” said Sotelo. “I’m very proud to be a member of HSTA.”

Okabe said though HSTA has come a long way, more teacher involvement is necessary to ensure a bright future for Hawaii education.

HSTA recently asked teachers to turn in a survey regarding their evaluation system currently under its first year. According to Okabe, out of 13,500 teachers, only 2,450 teachers replied.

“I’m saying this because this involves all of you this and we need to have you’re feedback,” said Okabe. “We have to have the input of the teachers to express what they want because only collectively are we able to move forward.”

Okabe said that compared to other islands, Molokai has become increasingly involved, and thanked island leadership who go over and beyond their duties in and out of the classroom.

“Involvement is important,” said Peterson. “I think it’s important to make things better instead of sitting around and complaining. If you’re not happy with the way things are, then you have to do something about it.”



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